ATLANTA — In a rare public appearance, Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan urged black Americans on Tuesday night to separate from mainstream culture to establish and support their own community.
Nearly eight months after delivering what was thought to be his farewell speech, a smiling Farrakhan strode onstage at the Atlanta Civic Center to an applauding and cheering audience of nearly 5,000. He warned the crowd not to be distracted by the successes of recent decades.
"We have to come out of the thinking of a slave and come into the thinking and acting of free men and women," Farrakhan said. "We cannot depend on others for what the horrible condition of our people demands now that we do for ourselves."
Farrakhan, 74, ceded leadership duties last year because of illness after nearly three decades. He had surgery for prostate cancer in January.
Tuesday night's address was the keynote speech for Farrakhan's Holy Day of Atonement, which also commemorated the 12th anniversary of the Million Man March, held Oct. 16, 1995 in Washington.
Farrakhan cut a healthy-looking figure Tuesday in a gray and gold pinstriped suit, a wide smile flashing often under the trademark side-part in his wavy, black hair and thin-rimmed glasses.
The fiery orator spoke for nearly 2 1/2 hours, touching on issues including the disparities blacks face in areas such as education, health care, voting and incarceration, the Jena Six case in Louisiana, last weekend's arrest of Atlanta rapper T.I. on federal weapons charges, the war in Iraq and the Michael Vick federal dogfighting case.
He criticized both the black middle and upper classes and white America, and said that separation from a world of materialism and individualism was the only way the entire black community could progress.
‘It's becoming a plantation again’
In addition to racial disparities, violence committed against blacks at the hands of other blacks is also a threat — and one that did not exist during the struggle for civil rights, Farrakhan said.
"I want to talk to my gang-banging family," he said. "You make it very difficult for me. In the '60s we knew who the enemy was. But in 2007 you are the enemy. How can I do what is right by you while I watch you do wrong by one another?"
High-profile examples of success like Oprah Winfrey, Sen. Barack Obama, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice give blacks a false impression of success, Farrakhan said.
As a result, middle class black America has gotten too comfortable with the trappings of the American dream, he told the approving audience.
"A life of ease sometimes makes you forget the struggle," he warned. "It's becoming a plantation again, but you can't fight that because you want to keep your little job."
The success of a few is negated by the continued poverty of millions of blacks in America, Farrakhan said, adding that now is the time to stop the cycle of poverty and violence.
"It's time for you scared-to-death Negroes to bite the dust," he said. "Our people must be free. This peaceful coexistence with the murder of our people has to stop."
The rally of thousands of black Americans in Jena, La., last month was a wake-up call, Farrakhan said.
"We should let the world know that we're tired," he said.
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